The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In light of the recent announcement of Rashida Jones’ plans to adapt The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris into an episodic comedy series for Hulu, I figured I’d throw in my two cents. I am not thrilled about this pending adaptation, and I’m flabbergasted as to why it’s being made as a comedy. I mean, I know us Black folks are able to find comedy and laugh about our plight in this country, but this is not the move. Not once while reading did I find it humorous.
I listened to the audiobook back in May. I checked my reading journal for notes. I had written nary a thing except the title at the top of the page. I may not be able to recall specific details about the novel, but I clearly remember the reactions I had as I progressed through the story.
This was not my favorite book. I felt bamboozled reading it as I did when I read Luster by Raven Leilani. Both novels were plastered all over my bookstagram timeline and touted as must-reads. I beg to differ. Speaking of Luster, I felt like The Other Black Girl was a spawn of it and Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour, another controversial novel that split the bookstagram world. I enjoyed it. It gave me Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio and Sorry To Bother You with LaKeith Stanfield vibes. Yes, both are movies, but that’s how Black Buck played out as I listened to the audiobook.
The cover of a Black woman’s side profile sporting an afro against a blue backdrop intrigued me. I have a similar pair of yellow afro pick earrings, which I’m constantly complimented on as I walk the streets of New York. Inside, I liked the storyline of a young, Black female professional trying to find her footing in the publishing world. Nella Rogers is a twenty-something editorial assistant at a New York book publisher as is Edie in Luster. Nella is both tired and used to being the only Black girl until the arrival of Hazel at Wagner Books. There are the mixed feelings of should she immediately befriend Hazel because she’s Black or is Hazel the type of who prefers to be the only Black person around.
I was rooting for The Other Black Girl. I was. I liked the premise of that awkward feeling when you’re used to being the only Black girl but when another one comes along you daydream about becoming Office BFFs and stress over becoming mortal enemies. Add to that there’s the unsaid, instant bond that you both wear your hair natural. #IYKYK Friends or not, you know everyone is watching, and you bear the burden of representing all future Black employees.
My resume is littered with Editorial Coordinator and Editorial Assistant positions at book, magazine, and digital publishing companies. Let’s not forget about my stint as Book Publicity Intern. For a majority of them, not only was I the only Black girl, I was the only Black person in a sea of crowded together cubicles. When I started a job that had other Black people—men and women—I breathed a sigh of relief. There were also “people of color.” A small subset of us minorities, none of us junior or senior editors, gravitated towards each other. I dubbed us the Equal Employment Opportunity Club, even though we all rocked at our jobs and were heavily relied upon.
When another Black girl (woman) started on my team, I was relieved not to be alone, but we did the delicate dance of how sisterly we could become while remaining professional. We were able to communicate non-verbally as only Black women can, with simple sly looks in meetings. A quick glance was able to convey, “Gurl, is he serious?” or “Girl, these people are trippin.’”
We were friendly at work, but only after she left did we feel comfortable enough to become actual gossiping, wining and dining, complaining about men and the trashy dating scene girlfriends. Nearly ten years later, we’re still friends, just as I’m still friends with another Sistah from another department. I’m the last one standing at the company now, but there is another Black woman on my team again. We’ve never met in person, but sometimes we band together during the “small talk” portion of meetings before they begin or are ending.
I liked the novel in the beginning, but it lost me. Its likability factor decreased as I continued, especially when the dubbed thriller seemed to devolve into some type of sci-fi with the other storyline of a cult/secret society (hence the Black Buck vibes I mentioned). Full disclosure: while I’ll purchase sci-fi movie tickets and binge-watch sci-fi TV shows, I don’t like to read sci-fi. That aside, there was another storyline that had some holes and left me with some questions. Let’s just say it involves another Black Girl from decades before at Wagner Books and an affair.
I was intrigued enough to finish The Other Black Girl. I never felt compelled to mark it as DNF (do not finish). I even listened while on a Jet Blue flight to Aruba, instead of enjoying an inflight movie. I understand the mixed reviews from months before and bookstagram’s uproar at it being selected for an adaptation. Congratulations to the author though. The book did have an audience and received positive reviews from some sector of readers. Everything isn’t for everybody. I’ll check out an episode or two.
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